AMD Entry-Level PC

Even as Intel produces the fastest desktop processors in the world, it is competitor AMD that has become synonymous with value. Under the $125 price point that Intel has set with the Core i3-530, AMD reigns supreme in both performance and raw core count for every dollar spent. Because of that, for the first time in an AnandTech Buyer's Guide, you'll find us recommending a triple-core processor for an entry-level machine.

AMD Entry-Level System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon II X3 435 Rana
(Tri-core 2.9GHz, 45nm, 3x512KB L2 Cache, Socket AM3)
$75
Cooling CPU Retail HSF $0
Video Onboard $0
Motherboard ASRock M3A785GMH/128M AM3 Micro ATX $77
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4GB DDR3-1600 F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL $105
Hard Drive WD Caviar Blue 500GB WD5000AAKS $54
Optical Drive Sony Optiarc Model AD-7240S-OB 24X DVDRW SATA $28
Audio Onboard $0
Case Cooler Master Centurion 5 CAC-T05-UW Mid Tower ATX $55
Power Supply OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W ATX12V SLI Certified, CrossFire Ready, 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC (before $25 Rebate) $65
Base System Total $459
Display ASUS VW193TR Black 19" 5ms Widescreen LCD (1440 x 900) $120
Speakers Built-in Monitor $0
Input Microsoft B2L-00045 Comfort Curve Black USB Keyboard and Optical USB Mouse - OEM $22
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium OEM 1-Pack (for System Builders) $105
Complete System Total $706
Plus Estimated Shipping (within Continental U.S.) $717
Rebates -$25
Bottom Line (less tax, if applicable) $692

And what a processor it is: the 2.9GHz Athlon II X3 435 Rana. Here's the 435 Rana slaughtering last year's value CPU choice, the Athlon X2 7750 BE:


And here's the 435 Rana coming out ahead in every single benchmark against our choice for the Intel entry-level PC, the Pentium Dual-Core E5300:


Positioned precisely at the sweet spot in AMD's lineup between the dual-core Athlon II X2s and the quad-core Athlon II X4s, the $75 Athlon II X3 435 Rana has the core count and clock speed to be the best of both worlds. It performs so admirably in both single and multi-threaded applications, in fact, as to give even low-end Phenom II CPUs a run for their money in certain benchmarks. Factor in low enough heat and power consumption that many report overclocking to 3.6GHz on air, and you have a practically perfect processor for budget enthusiasts.

And because the 435 Rana is based on the Phenom II die, we just had to pair it with an ACC-capable motherboard. In case you're not familiar, AMD's tri-core chips actually aren't; they're quad-core CPUs binned as having a manufacturing defect in one core with that core consequently disabled. But if demand for a tri-core chip is high enough that AMD finds themselves having to disable perfectly good quad-core chips to sell them as tri-core instead… you just might be able to unlock that fourth core, and ACC (Advanced Clock Calibration) is your golden ticket.

But ACC is hardly the best reason to buy the ASRock M3A785GMH/128M motherboard. The reason to buy the M3A785GMH is because for the bargain price of $77, it's one of the most full-featured Micro ATX motherboards we've seen for AMD chips. Based on the AMD 785G / SB710 chipset we favorably reviewed in August, the M3A785GMH is its most powerful interpretation—the one that comes with 128MB sideport of DDR3-1333 for enhanced video performance on its Radeon HD 4200 IGP and supports up to 16GB of DDR3-1600 system memory in four dual-channel banks. The SB710 Southbridge provides five SATA 3Gb/s ports supporting RAID 0, 1 and 10, while Realtek pulls double-duty providing 7.1-channel HD audio with their ALC888 chip and Gigabit Ethernet with their 8111DL NIC. VGA, DVI and HDMI video-out accompany an eSATA, combo PS/2, optical S/PDIF-out and four USB 2.0 ports on the rear panel, with headers for an additional six USB ports on the motherboard itself. Last but not least, a single PCIe x16, a PCIe x1 and two PCI slots appear in an excellent layout with three fan headers, an IDE slot and even a legacy floppy connector at the very bottom. If you don't feel you need the extra speed and future-proofing that comes with DDR3, you can easily shave off $12 by going with the practically identical $65 ASRock A785GMH/128M instead, which trades the Realtek ALC888 for VIA VT1708S 7.1-channel audio and an extra SATA 3GB/s port.

With both DDR2 and DDR3 memory prices the highest we've seen in recent memory, picking a set of fast, reliable yet inexpensive modules can be an exercise in futility. Be sure to shop around, because in all likelihood, there will be better and vastly different deals by the time you read this guide. But as of today, we believe the $105 G.Skill Ripjaws 4GB DDR3-1600 CAS 9 kit offers the best value for your money. It's true that regardless of brand and binning, the quality of memory modules varies widely, but G.Skill modules have an excellent reputation as of late, and these particular modules are designed to both run at low voltage (1.5v) and are reportedly excellent overclockers. As mentioned above, if you choose to go the DDR2 route you'll lose some overhead and future-proofing potential, but at a substantial savings of up to $30 if you choose low-cost DDR2 modules like the G.Skill DDR2-800 CAS5.

While the quality and reliability of magnetic hard drives increases year after year, we've found that actual hard drive capacity and performance is something of a commodity these days. Regardless of the manufacturer you pick today, an entry-level 500GB hard drive will cost you around $55 and offer the same performance as any of its brethren. The only exception to the rule is the WD Caviar Green, which tends to run slightly slower but quieter than its counterparts. Our current pick is the WD Caviar Blue, simply because of its widespread availability and Western Digital's stellar reputation.

Our choice for an optical drive remains the tried-and-true Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B, a SATA-connected 24X DVDRW with faster burning speeds and greater reliability than anything else in its price range. Though the price of Blu-ray readers has fallen considerably—the Lite-ON iHOS104-06 in particular retailing for only $60—Blu-ray is still a luxury for most budget boxes, its discussion better saved for our upgrade section on page 6.

If we had to pick a single reason why low-end PCs get a bad rap, it would probably be the prevalence of cheap cases and even cheaper bundled power supplies. To combat these weaknesses, we chose the time-honored favorite Cooler Master Centurion 5 to house these budget PCs, and the OCZ ModXStream 500W PSU to power them. At $55, the Centurion 5 is a solid, stylish aluminum mid-tower with clean lines, few sharp edges, a pair of quality fans, a CPU air duct and a nearly tool-less design that makes installing drives and expansion cards quite easy. Meanwhile, the ModXStream 500W is a bona fide bargain at $40 after rebate, offering efficiency through both reduced power consumption (as certified by the 80 Plus efficiency rating) and a modular design that allows for reduced cabling and, by extension, greater airflow.

Though ASUS is known primarily as a manufacturer of motherboards, in recent years they've expanded their efforts greatly to include netbooks, sound cards and even low-cost monitors, each of which miraculously maintain the company's reputation for quality. We therefore have no reservations in recommending the $120 ASUS VW193TR, a 19" monitor with 1440x900 native resolution, DVI and VGA connectivity and a 5ms response time, all of which are more than acceptable for an entry-level screen at this price point. If you require a large desktop for productivity or intend to be viewing large amounts of HD multimedia content, however, you'll find bigger and better monitors in our upgrade section on page 6.

Index Intel Entry-Level PC
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  • jonp - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    start with the intel mainstream; drop the hd 4850, case and power supply; use Antec Two Hundred case $39.99, Antec Earthwatts Green EA-380D power supply $39.99; the base system is $482!!! For only $30 more than the E5300 configuration! The case has two BIG fans, power supply on the bottom; usb, indicator lights, power and reset buttons on the top-front (since most sit on the floor) and very quiet. Even at 380 watts, the power supply is probably 4 times more than this system configuration will use and the supply is used in a more efficient way (i3-530, asus p7h55-m pro, 4gb ddr3, wd blue drive, sony optiarc, media reader, 3rd case fan == 82 wall-watts under IntelBurn Test (4 threads)). Reply
  • dankegel - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    I did some research yesterday on my own, and also chose the Antec Two Hundred case. I may switch to the Earthwatts supply, thanks.

    My proposed configuration is written up at
    http://kegel.com/new-computer-2010.html">http://kegel.com/new-computer-2010.html
    please check it out and let me know what you think.
    I'm aiming at really fast C compilation and entry level
    (but not crappy) gaming.
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    "But now, by popular demand, we've separated mail-in rebates and added estimated shipping costs within the continental United States as well. With this measure in place, discerning buyers can find the true out-of-pocket cost of any of our suggested builds without having to consult a virtual shopping cart (except for taxes—you're on your own there)."

    THANK YOU for that! :)
    Reply
  • kjartan333 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    $120 for a case and power supply has no place in a budget build!

    No blu-ray is listed because $60 is too much... No graphics card either...

    But for some reason a fancy case with 5 external bays and a 500w power supply is necessary? Get real.
    Reply
  • zerobug - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    If you are not a gamer and use your PC to surf the net, watch movies, store pictures, and do office work, you do not need to upgrade. Ditch windows, move to Linux, and you'll gain a modern operation system and applications that can achieve all those tasks fast and efficiently even with a 10 years old machine. Reply
  • v12v12 - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    And a STEEP arse LEARNING CURVE required for even the most mundane problems. The person you're talking about is NOT going to need to use, nor want to use Nix. This person is a drone, another worker-bee in society using their computer to surf sites for mindless shopping, gossip sites and the like... Great idea, logical, but not practical for the worker-bee drone.

    I wish they were smarter... but, yadda...yadda...
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  • hombre - Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - link

    My wife uses Ubuntu Linux every day, and she's certainly not a techie. It came pre-installed on her netbook, and the only thing I had to help her with was setting up the wireless adapter, and that's only because she didn't know what our WEP key was.

    Reply
  • gychang - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    I am very interested in the AMD budget for general and photoshop use at home, due to space constrsints is there a thinner or smaller case that will fit with all suggested components?

    thanks,

    gychang
    Reply
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    or this one?

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    Reply

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